Rising demand from Asia fuels bumper art auction

Workers making adjustments to the display of a sculptureduring a preview of an impressionist and modern art auction at Christie's in New York, on Friday. The auction house is expecting millions in sales.
Workers making adjustments to the display of a sculptureduring a preview of an impressionist and modern art auction at Christie's in New York, on Friday. The auction house is expecting millions in sales.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

NEW YORK • It's fall. Leaves in Central Park are golden and so are profits in the art world, as Christie's and Sotheby's prepare to auction off US$2 billion (S$2.8 billion) worth of works in New York.

From Nov 4 to 12, the two auction houses go head to head in selling hundreds of pieces of modern, impressionist, post-war and contemporary art, six months after the spring season smashed a string of records and netted more than US$2.6 billion. Fuelled by rising demand from Asia and the Gulf, it was 10 days of eye-watering extravagance that set a new world record for any work of art sold at auction - US$179.4 million for a Picasso.

Sotheby's kicks off the season by selling the private collection of the American philanthropist Alfred Taubman, but it is rival Christie's that grabs the headlines with two top lots. The work estimated to be the most expensive is a sensuous nude by Amedeo Modigliani valued at US$100 million, followed by an iconic pop art masterpiece from Roy Lichtenstein estimated at US$80 million. Modigliani's Reclining Nude comes to auction for the first time, expected to set a new record for the Italian artist.

Christie's believes Lichtenstein's Nurse - a shocked-looking blonde with sexy red lips - could also fetch more than US$100 million, which would nearly double the artist's current record. That would make it a shrewd investment for its most recent owner, who acquired the comic book-inspired portrait for US$1.65 million in 1995.

US billionaire and Republican party donor, Mr Bill Koch, can also expect a giant windfall. He is parting company with Picasso's La Gommeuse, the portrait of a cabaret artist dating back to 1901 when the artist was just 19 years old and grieving the suicide of a close friend. Bought for US$3 million in 1984, Sotheby's expects it to fetch US$60 million. Mr Koch is also parting with a Monet Water Lilies piece, which Sotheby's is selling on Thursday, valued at US$30 million to US$50 million.

Another highlight is a Vincent van Gogh, valued at US$50 million to US$70 million and painted a year before the artist's death.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 01, 2015, with the headline 'Rising demand from Asia fuels bumper art auction'. Print Edition | Subscribe